Somewhere along the way we decided it would be fun to add a little personality by giving each level its own title card. We love using quotes in everyday life. Movies, TV shows, games, books, real life personalities--you name it, if it's quotable we'll find a way to work it into our vocabulary. Chubbins is just weird enough that we felt we could share that part of ourselves by working those quotes and references into relevant (or semi-relevant in some cases) level names. Hopefully some of you out there have been able to pick out a few you're familiar with. Maybe sometime we'll write out a full list of where they all come from and why we chose them.
In some cases the quotes even extended into visual instances as well. For example, we made one of the bosses a weasel, since it's a natural enemy to a rabbit. But there's a bad guy called The Weasel in The Lost Room TV show. He has this object that's like a magical pen, so we decided to give our weasel a pen, and call his battle "The Pen" even though it makes no sense to anyone who hasn't seen the show. In turn, The Weasel's real name on the show is Montague, and so we ended up adopting that as our weasel's name. Through similar stories the other bosses ended up with incidental names as well--the raccoon is Rocky (an unintended double reference), the Eagle is Ringo, and the Fox is Wily. It was definitely a fun aspect, playing with little details like that.
As for the structure of the game, the meat of it, looking back on it now, our Nintendo roots really influenced our decisions even more so than we realized at the time. Old Mario games, among others, had to be played straight through from start to finish with no saving. We really appreciate the challenge of those days, and the satisfaction you get from overcoming those challenges. Games that might have taken us years to beat the first time around can now be breezed through in half an hour, and it feels great. That's not to say we intentionally set out to make Chubbins a brutal game, or even particularly hard. Indeed not, we were aiming to release it on a very casual market after all.
We weren't going to make players go through the entire game in one shot, just each world. Each world is only 8 levels, and most of them can be cleared in 30 seconds or less, so it didn't seem like it was asking too much. Also, unlike those old days, we were going to give players unlimited lives to work with, no game over. Still, we wanted to capture that feeling of real achievement, so we decided not to clutter up the game with a lot of extra collectables and the like. It was just to be pure platforming, with a limited number of obstacles.
That meant the levels themselves had to be great. Into this we poured loads of effort, always trying to come up with new block, spike, float, and enemy formations that would keep things fresh, and we even surprised ourselves with some of the ways we found to use them (3-7 anyone?). I really think we succeeded here with levels that make an impression and each have their own feel. I think anyone who spends some decent time with the game will be able to come back six months later, look at a random screen and say, "Oh yeah, I remember that level."
The creation process for each level had a lot of back and forth. One of us would build the level as we envisioned it, then play it to make sure it was doable and not too difficult. Then we'd pass it on to the other and get their take on it, weeding out potential tough spots. Once we were both satisfied that it was good, we'd try to figure out where in the game it belonged based on its difficulty. Finally we'd go through it again with the idea that casual players would make up the majority of players, and we'd often tone them down more.
We know a surprisingly few people that we could turn to for quality feedback, but we got who we could to play the game for us and watched their reactions closely... And we toned the game down even more based on the apparent difficulty. Finally, the time came to release the game and to our surprise and dismay it was deemed... way too hard. Even after all our efforts to make sure it wouldn't be... Did no one want some bang for their buck? Well we tried putting out an update that added a Casual Mode (now known as Soft Mode) in addition to the Classic Mode (now known as Hard Mode), but we learned that in the iOS market, if you don't make a big enough splash when you release, no one cares about the ripples when you re-release. Casual Mode went unnoticed, and Chubbins fell into obscurity.
Concluded in Part 3